Apple’s September 2016 Event – My Thoughts
September is upon us, and once again, that means Apple is ready to reveal the hardware they’ve spent the past few years working on. Apple’s September 2016 event starts tomorrow, 10 AM California time. As usual, you’ll be able to watch it live on Apple’s website or, if you have an Apple TV, using Apple’s Events app.
This particular event is a little more mysterious than those in years’ past. A new iPhone is a given. But as for what that iPhone entails, and what else is coming… I have a few predictions.
The dual-camera system is real, and it’s a big deal
If rumors are to be believed, the iPhone 7 will be getting a second camera, with a much closer zoom level than the current camera.
Apple has done a great job squeezing every last ounce of quality from the sensor size they’re stuck with, but there’s only so much they can do. They cannot ever get depth-of-field from a tiny, wide-angle camera, no matter how hard they try. They cannot achieve a good quality digital zoom on a phone camera – that would require vastly increasing megapixel count, and they’re already at the point where additional pixels would damage picture quality by introducing noise.
There are two options to significantly improve picture quality, and only two options: increase the camera sensor size, or add more cameras optimized for different things. The larger sensor option would require a thicker camera bump, and I don’t see Apple making the iPhone thicker any time soon.
A second, zoomed-in camera would solve many of the iPhone’s camera problems. True depth-of-field separation would be possible, allowing for smooth out-of-focus elements like the ones on Apple’s event invitation. A telephoto lens would look far better than digital zoom ever could, and would capture detail from much further away than the current wide-angle camera can.
Combine that with iOS 10’s RAW image support and wide-color gamut, and the iPhone 7’s camera will be the biggest camera upgrade in the history of the product.
With that said, it’s still nowhere close to a dedicated camera. When it comes to photography, the larger the camera sensor the better. Interchangeable-lens digital camera sensors are getting bigger, not smaller. I’m a huge iPhone fan, but I shoot all my art photos with a full-frame camera.
The Headphone jack is going away, and it really doesn’t matter
Yes, the rumors are true. Hold on to your monocles: the new iPhone is losing the headphone jack.
I’ve resisted writing about this, because the Internet already has enough vapid think-pieces on the subject. Apple isn’t doing this because they hate you. There are real benefits to losing the jack.
The headphone jack is huge. It’s twice as thick as Lightning. It’s thicker than USB-C, which is already too thick for Apple. There’s a slimmer variant of the jack Apple could switch to, but if they’re already giving up any advantage of the ubiquitous jack, why bother? Ditching the jack lets Apple make thinner devices. And we all know how much Apple likes to do that.
The technology behind the headphone jack is old; it dates back to the 1800s. It requires the iPhone to convert all audio from its native digital format to analog sound, which is sent directly from your phone, though the cable, to your ears. Switching to digital means the iPhone no longer touches the audio – it sends raw audio files directly from the device to the headphones, which do the work of turning digital 1s and 0s into analog sound.
Moving digital-to-analog conversion from the iPhone to the headphones can result in better sound quality – expensive headphones can use better converter chips than the ones in the iPhone. More importantly, headphones connected over Lightning would allow for additional functionality over old headphones, because in addition to sending audio, Lightning sends power. This allows Lightning headphones to cancel noise or drive additional bass, without requiring separate batteries for power – big feature gains that Apple would love to capitalize on with their Beats line.
Here’s what I see Apple doing in regards to headphones. In the box, the iPhone 7 will include their standard EarPods, but with a Lightning connector instead of a headphone jack. Sound quality will be the same as existing EarPods, but Apple will clearly be hoping people upgrade to something higher-end.
At the high-end, I picture one headphone product. This will be a larger, Beats-inspired (and possibly co-branded) standard headphone design. It will be Bluetooth, with a 10-hour battery. It will be the most reliable, best sounding Bluetooth headphone ever made. The headphones themselves will have a USB-C port on them. They can connect directly to your iPhone using an included USB-C-to-Lightning cable, to your Mac using a standard USB-C cable, and to anything else using a USB-C-to-headphone-jack cable.
Just like the Apple Pencil, the Magic Keyboard, and the Magic Trackpad, connecting these headphones to your (Apple) device takes care of all the Bluetooth pairing work for you. And when they are connected, the Bluetooth functionality is ignored, and sound is routed directly through the cable. The headphones could recharge their batteries directly from the device they’re connected to.
I expect other manufactures to implement a similar feature set across their high-end headphone line very quickly. Within a year, I expect every headphone in Apple’s stores to work this way. I expect the entire overblown argument about the headphone jack to die long before that.
It’s time for a new Apple Watch
I love my Apple Watch. I’m going to love it a lot more after watchOS 3 comes out. But it’s over a year and a half old, and I doubt Apple has been resting on their laurels.
Unlike the new iPhone, I have no idea what a new Apple Watch would look like. I’ll go with the obvious: thinner design, more powerful internals, comparable battery life. It will not have its own cellular connection – that comes next year. I also doubt it will come in a $10,000 gold model – that was a one-off experiment.
Beyond those guesses, what Apple does with the new Watch is anyone’s guess. I’m excited to find out.
No New iPads or Macs Yet
This one hurts me to say, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing new iPads or Macs tomorrow. Between the new iPhone, new Apple Watch, and a reminder of all the changes in iOS 10, this event is fully booked.
New Macs are LONG overdue, and new iPads are almost certainly coming before the holiday shopping rush. Normally, to modern Apple, these products might not warrant their own event. In this case, I think the changes to the Mac line will be sweeping enough to justify holding a second event. Expect it sometime in mid-to-late October.
I expect to see a beta for a new version of iOS 10 at the same time, with considerably more iPad focused features, and perhaps a dark theme.
I’m not predicting anything significant from this event as it pertains to Apple and Gaming. The new iPhone will certainly be more powerful than the previous models, but that doesn’t really matter, because no games push the current iPhone anywhere close to its limit. The A9 chip is vastly overpowered for the tiny screen in the iPhone – it’s designed to push full-size iPad screens.
On that front, we could see a resolution increase across the iPhone line. 2x Retina has lasted us a long time, but a move to 3X would make games look considerably sharper, especially on the non-Plus iPhone 7.
Wide-gamut color will probably be making its way to the new iPhone, along with true-tone display. This is a big deal for photography, but less so for gaming. These are both features that will likely be rolling out to everything in Apple’s product line – once you get used to them, there’s no going back.